MassHousing's 2016 Community Services Conference drew about 400 attendees and more than a dozen exhibitors to Framingham June 21 to discuss the opioid and heroin epidemic and how the Massachusetts housing community can help people overcome addiction.
Held at the Sheraton Framingham Hotel and Conference Center, attendees – including property managers, resident service coordinators and other service providers - heard from various experts and officials about the many ongoing efforts to address the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts.
"The topics we address are difficult but they are topics that must be considered," MassHousing Executive Director Tim Sullivan told the audience. "In particular, in the case of the opioid epidemic, what in many cases feeds this terrible crisis is silence – or shame. So we will talk about it in an effort to break the silence and find ways to communicate to those who are affected that there is no place for shame in the healing process. Because healing is what happens when shame and guilt and fear are beaten back and the light has a chance to shine in on these issues."
Dr. Mark Libon, Vice President of Behavioral Health Services at The Dimock Center provided an overview of the history and scope of the opioid and heroin problem as well as the science of what opioids do to the human body and brain.
A Community Impact Panel with Gloucester Police Lt. David Quinn and John Rosenthal, president of Meredith Management and chairman of MassHousing's Community Services Advisory Committee, discussed the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.) which was co-founded by Rosenthal and Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello based on Gloucester's original Angel Program.
The Angel Program, which has been replicated through P.A.A.R.I. by 106 police departments in 24 states, helps opioid addicts receive treatment rather than placing them under arrest if the voluntarily seek help from the police departments involved in the program.
A third panelist, Debbie Piltch of Piltch Associates, spoke about opioids and how they relate to housing laws and policies.
Dr. Monica Bharel, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, provided an update the Commonwealth's response to the opioid crisis. The attendees also received a hands demonstration on the use of Narcan, provided by 30 students from the Massachusetts School of Pharmacy. Narcan has been highly effective in reversing overdoses and saving many lives.
More than a dozen nonprofit and governmental organizations involved in fighting the opioid epidemic were exhibitors at the conference, providing advice and materials to the attendees.